Land Donation Expands Habitat Protection Adjacent to Perrot State Park

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Carol Abrahamzon

Mississippi Valley Conservancy receives gift of land in one of its priority land protection areas

TREMPEALEAU, WI – When Lois Larson, the superintendent of Perrot State Park, received an inquiry about a landowner’s desire to donate 18 acres of land adjacent to the park for conservation purposes, she knew that the state park was in no position to accept such a gift and the added management responsibilities that would come with it. That’s when she and board members of Friends of Perrot State Park referred the landowner to a local accredited land trust for Trempealeau County, Mississippi Valley Conservancy. 

Upon learning about the organization’s services, the donor, who chose to remain anonymous, offered to donate the 18-acre property to the Conservancy. The opportunity was one for which the Conservancy is ideally suited – a chance to help a partner and, by protecting land adjacent to existing protected acres, meet a goal in the Conservancy’s strategic plan.   

“Protecting land, not owning it, is the mission of Mississippi Valley Conservancy. There are times, however, when land acquisition plays a key part in the process of protecting native habitats,” said Carol Abrahamzon, executive director of the Conservancy, “The Conservancy board was easily convinced to accept the land donation, due to its ecological significance and location in one of its priority areas. A protected land donation is a gift that will be of benefit to many generations. It’s something for which we can all be grateful.”

The property abuts Perrot State Park on two sides. Its features include rugged topography, oak woodlands, and archaeological resources. The land is a component of the Mississippi River migratory flyway and provides nesting habitat for songbirds including the American redstart, eastern towhee, and yellow-throated vireo. The property is highly visible by the public from the village of Trempealeau along the edges of Perrot State Park, where more than 390,000 people visit each year.

Park and village officials have been supportive of the Conservancy’s acquisition of the land, according to conservation director Abbie Church. “There are several organizations working on protecting the natural and cultural heritage in and around Trempealeau. With shared conservation values, we’re piecing together a larger area that’s protected for the benefit of wildlife, residents, and visitors,” said Church, “It is our hope to transfer the land in the future to Perrot Park for long-term ownership and management. Meanwhile, it’s great to be able to protect this forested habitat for migratory songbirds and other wildlife.”

“The newly acquired Mississippi Valley Conservancy property, adjacent to Perrot State Park, is a great addition to the protected natural landscape,” said Lois Larson, Park Superintendent, “It provides another buffer for the park and park visitors, and it further protects the heritage of this place. Together, the park and the Conservancy land are an ‘island’ of old growth oak, walnut, and hickory trees that are the preferred habitat of pileated woodpeckers and scarlet tanagers – both shy birds that are sensitive to habitat fragmentation. It also provides another place for people to recreate in nature.”

Trempealeau Village president, Kurt Wood, said, “The Village board was in favor of this. It’s good to protect the upper blufflands. This was never prime development land.” Speaking to the state park’s value as a tourist destination, Wood said, “Anyone from anywhere seems to know about Perrot State Park. The new Conservancy land will allow hikers to roam a bit further.” 

The future of the land in and around Trempealeau is also the focus of Friends of Little Bluff, a volunteer organization that’s working to protect archaeologically significant property that also connects the charming Mississippi River village with Perrot State Park. According to Michael Pelech, who sits on the board of Friends of Little Bluff, “The cultural history of the land and artifacts found in and around Trempealeau hold the stories of many historical events, and they’re closely tied to the beauty and the ecological value of the land. Over a thousand years ago, Trempealeau was home to several native American cultures, including the native woodland tribes and the Mississippians who brought tools and pottery from Cahokia when they colonized the region.” Today, the town is a hotbed of archaeological research, and several interpretive centers have been established to share and protect the local history. “We are delighted that Mississippi Valley Conservancy was able to step in and protect the donated land that may hold more pieces of the history we’re working to protect. The donation also offers the potential ability to be leveraged in the purchase of additional land.”

“When an opportunity of this kind occurs, we don’t always know in whose hands the donated land will ultimately be held,” said Carol Abrahamzon, “but we can protect it with a conservation easement that prevents development from damaging the native ecological systems. If ownership ever changes, its protected status will go with it, into the future, forever.”